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7 habits of highly effective churches

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Churches 1

7 habits of highly effective churches

Habit 1 – Focus on God

Church is for God. For spirituality. For meditation. For prayer. For liturgy. This should be self evident.

Κύριον τὸν Θεόν σου προσκυνήσεις, καὶ αὐτῷ μόνῳ λατρεύσεις
Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. Matthew 4:10
προσκυνέω proskyneō worship God

If people want the experience of a café, or a club, or group therapy, they will go to a café, join a club, or enrol for group therapy – because those do that better. Church is about God.

Let the focus not be on health, wealth, peace, etc. Those may or may not be results of focus on God…

And let the focus not be on some sort of super, invisible sky fairy. God as an invisible imaginary friend is often a nice place to start the journey, but the church’s focus needs to include the immortal, invisible, in-light-inaccessible-hid-from-our-eyes God. The One who is closer to me than I am to myself. The one who is my existence, our existence, the mystery at the heart of reality. Not a being. But Being.

There doesn’t need to be a gimmick to try and lure people in. I recently watched a video clip of the start of a Christmas “service” in which the pastor drove onto the stage (you could hardly refer to it as a “sanctuary”), dry ice came out of the car as he stepped out of it onto the stage while the lead guitarist did an amazing riff. The theme of the service was “what car would God drive?”

There is nothing wrong with a gimmick occasionally. There is nothing wrong with the occasional hook. But let it not even be the icing on the cake. It is the decoration on the icing. If the cake is foul, non-existent, or not nourishing, and the icing is poor, people quickly tire of the decoration. Those who come for the gimmick, the decoration, might turn up each year when it is “wear-something-red Sunday” or “funny-hat Sunday” or “animal Sunday”.

Some become addicted to gimmicks and novelty. A priest colleague had a nervous breakdown when he could no longer keep up with the relentless demand he had set himself to constantly better last time’s gimmick. Yes, as I said, the gimmick may bring some to God – but when our trust shifts from God to gimmicks the alarm bells should be ringing loud. Bait and switch has no place in church. It so often does.

Church might have programmes, but the programmes ought not to dominate the God-life. Too often the latest trendy programme takes the church’s energy. Those who have seen them come and go know that this too will pass to give way to the next burst of enthusiasm for the next favoured programme.

Prayer, meditation, the Daily Office, the Eucharist – these are the “programmes” that should dominate our church life.

Habit 1 of highly effective churches is focus on God.

To be continued…

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18 thoughts on “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Churches 1”

  1. Yes. Absolutely. In a former life as ministry educator in Waikato I visited all the congregations in the diocese and saw them as they were- no one specially turns up for the ministry educator unlike an episcopal visit where children and recalcitrant spouses and neighbours and the local Presbyterians are dragooned into coming.I saw stable churches, declining churches and growing churches. So what made the difference between a church that was growing and one that was not? To my surprise I noticed it wasn’t any of the things that we normally assume it to be: not music, not churchmanship, not conservatism or liberalism not even the quality of preaching or liturgy. It was the sense of God in the place that made All the difference. You know it when you encounter it and it is impossible to fake.

  2. I would like to have all seven. . . will you present them all together at some point for easier “sharing” with our parish leadership?
    Thanks & God Bless,

    1. Yes, Kathryne. It is encouraging that you already anticipate that the seven will be worth sharing 🙂 Let’s keep talking about ways that might work best for many (conscious, of course, that I do have time limitations). Blessings.

  3. I totally agree Bosco. When we gather for worship, the focus is on God. However when we gather at cafes, clubs, therapy, etc. shouldn’t that be one of worship as well since we offer our whole lives as one of worship. So whether I am in a building worshipping God or whether I am in the marketplace, my life is one of worship. Does that make sense?

    1. Makes perfect sense to me, Chris. Might we think of church, then, like play (a metaphor I use regularly, and a fun slip from “let us pray”): practicing for our lives beyond church walls… Blessings.

  4. Maddeleine Hurricks

    Thanks Bosco! Yes! The Immortal, invisible, in-light-inaccessible-hid-from-our-eyes God, Most Blesséd Most Glorious, the Ancient of Days.

  5. Robert Voorwinde

    In our travels, we make a point of attending services.
    I too, many times get this empty feeling in some churches and every now and then, there is this feeling of completeness, like home. In each case the size of the congregation reflected and confirmed that feeling.
    The empty church is a sad reflection of parishioners attitude to change, they seldom had happy faces. The comfy church had a good size congregation, where it’s wise to come in early to get a good seat. Smiling faces and a genuine welcoming committee keen to share what they have.
    One such place was on Norfolk Island. The service was exactly the same format as ours at Lakes Anglican. But best of all, after the service there was this great and genuine fellowship.
    The church will grow, if such enthusiasm is shared.

  6. Gillian Trewinnard

    Thank you for allowing sharing of this article, which I have put a link to on our own small (and v humble) parish blogsite. Your thesis that focus on God is primary is music to my ears. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Gillian. I think your parish site is great. I see some sites that seem to lack vitality and are not up to date. I’m pleased the first habit echoed for you. May the rest be of use also. Blessings.

  7. Dear Bosco and +Kelvin,
    You are not supposed to think of work while you are on holiday but your article Bosco and your response has got e thinking as I have traveled around the UK. I would like you two to go further and expand on what you have said and give some ideas about what are some of the things that you believe give a sense of God’s presence in our church services.

    I must be careful as I am writing this in Presbyterian Edinburgh.


    1. Thanks, Murray. Some ideas of mine might be found in this talk, how we can gather and form a praying community, on being a contemplative community (and here), and as part of that – contemplative leadership and forming that. In the post I have already pointed to the primacy of the Daily Office and prayer and meditation in the community’s life and formation. These are some of the things that immediately spring to my mind – what spring to yours, Murray? Blessings.

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